Vaclav Havel: Theatre, Politics & Dissent

Course NameVaclav Havel: Theatre, Politics & Dissent
Course CodeLIT406 / LIT506
DescriptionThe primary objective of the course is to introduce the students to Václav Havel, a central figure of the Velvet Revolution in 1989, as Czechoslovakia’s first post-communist president, and prior to this a leading political dissident and avant-garde playwright. Students will first discuss Havel’s involvement in the theatre On the Balustrade in the 1960s. His early absurdist plays will be viewed also in association with the work of prominent European playwrights such as Samuel Beckett, whose work Havel helped to introduce in Czechoslovakia, and Tom Stoppard, who has acknowledged a debt to Havel’s drama. The course will move to outline Havel’s involvement as a dissident after the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia by the Warsaw Pact, and follow his removal from the public sphere by the totalitarian regime. Havel’s work as a political dissident will be traced through the reading of selected essays and petitions, including his letter to President Husák and the Charter 77 declaration. The latter will be read in its broader context of the coming together of various strands of political dissent (from opposition intellectuals through ex-communist politicians to the Czech underground movement) due to the persecution of the rock band The Plastic People of the Universe. Finally, Havel’s official career as a politician will be outlined, from his role as a founding member of the Civic Forum in 1989, through two terms in office as President, up to his retirement from top politics and return to creative writing, as exemplified by his last play Leaving and his subsequent film version of the same. Throughout, Havel’s career will be viewed on the backdrop of life in Czechoslovakia, through the mild thaw of the 60s, a return to totalitarianism in the 70s and 80s, up to the liberal atmosphere of the Velvet Revolution, with the objective to facilitate a better understanding of everyday life in these various periods. Finally, students will have a chance to discuss a recent (2020) biographical film about Havel, considering how it conceptualises Havel’s importance and legacy. The course will be complemented by screenings of plentiful documentary material (and, if possible, the physical presentation of a variety of printed and other materials and artifacts).
Learning OutcomesUpon completion of this course, students should be able to:
– Comprehend and have a clear understanding of Václav Havel’s work as a playwright in the broader context of European theatre, and as a political activist and politician;
– Comprehend the importance of the production context of drama for the creation of meaning, as instantiated by the interpretation of the theatre of the absurd on either side of the Iron Curtain;
– Understand the position of Václav Havel’s thought in the context of twentieth-century politics and philosophy;
– Understand the nature of everyday life in the totalitarian regime of communist Czechoslovakia;
– Comprehend the nature of political dissent in Czechoslovakia, including the role of anti-communist intellectuals, pre-1968 reform communists, and radical rock musicians;
– Identify clearly how Czech politics has changed since Havel’s time as President;
– Understand how Havel’s legacy is perceived in the contemporary Czech Republic.
SchoolSchool of Humanities & Social Sciences
LevelBachelor / Master
Number of credits (US / ECTS)3 US / 6 ECTS